Pregnancy comes with a lot of expectations. From home pregnancy tests to routine prenatal care to baby showers, expecting moms often breeze through these milestones with ease. Sure there are the heartburn complaints and the swollen feet to deal with. But most pregnant women hope their pregnancy to be healthy. And you know what? It usually is.
But sometimes things go tragically wrong. And when it happens to us, we must either make the heart-rending decision to try again or to let go, which can be especially tricky when we don’t even have choices to ‘try again.’
For those of us who have lost a child in any stage of pregnancy or after birth, finding out you’re pregnant again is nothing less than a mind game.
Suddenly, decisions that once seemed simple became complicated. Milestones you once reached with ease now feel like you’re climbing Mt. Everest. Writer and artist Carly Marie says it’s like being handed an instant anxiety disorder. After five losses, I couldn’t agree more.
For me, pregnancy after loss felt nothing like pregnancy before my loss. It was a whole new game, with new rules to navigate. As I am working through my seventh pregnancy now (and fingers crossed second live birth), here are a few things I’m doing differently. Maybe you can relate.
1. Pregnancy tests.
The test turns positive. You squeal. You either can’t wait to share the news with your partner – or maybe you’re hesitant as you’re not sure you’re ready to be a mom.
No matter how you feel, you are sure of one thing: That positive pregnancy test equals a baby that you will one day have in your arms!
But then, at some point along the way, the equation goes awry.
All of a sudden, that positive pregnancy test no longer automatically equals a baby you’ll get to keep. If anything, it feels like there should be a giant question mark after the plus sign.
After my recurrent pregnancy loss, a positive test began to mean very little, other than that my emotions were heavily involved either way.
Maybe out of the need to stay unattached, I assumed we would lose the baby, and we would lose it quickly. Instead of planning a fun announcement, I’d hand my husband the test with few words, maybe a tear or two, and a “here we go again” kind of sigh. He would match my sigh, hug me, and say, “I’m sorry.” Sometimes I’d immediately toss the pregnancy test in my memorial basket.
This after cycles and cycles of actively trying. A very wanted pregnancy and the last thing we could make ourselves feel was happiness or excitement.
So the next time you pee on a stick or get that beta from your nurse, expect a whole slew of emotion to hit. Sure, excitement may be one. Others might be resignation, fear, anxiety, hope, hopelessness, awe, terror and apathy.
Or maybe you won’t feel much at all. The numbness has a way of trying to preserve our sanity.
One thing that will for sure be missing? Naievity. That, my friend, is one thing you’ll likely never experience with a pregnancy test again.
2. Due dates
Just like a positive test used to mean a baby, due dates used to indicate you knew when that baby would be in your arms.
Then, you had an empty due date. Or you passed your due date after having a baby you couldn’t keep.
Suddenly, you can’t put a lot of stock in your due dates. You might not even want to know yours – at least not yet. There were times I held off finding out my due date. If it was going to be an empty due date, I didn’t know what it was.
As your due date approaches, you may feel excited. But most parents after loss often feel anxious. They are ready to get their due date over, so they can know if they get to keep this baby – or if they’ll be walking the road of loss yet again.
In a previous (easy) pregnancy, you sort of soared through appointments. You figured your doctor would share with you all the information you needed to know.
After the loss of a pregnancy (and by default, a loss of control), your interactions with your doctor might change significantly.
First, you don’t take anything for granted. You may come to your appointments with long lists of questions or your research you’ve done online.
Second, you might have a strong need to control everything you can about your experience.
Here are some things I changed to help me feel more in control
– I ignore the OB’s front desk when possible. To schedule any of my tests or early exams, I call the nurse. My history of recurrent early pregnancy loss and serious complications means I need to be treated differently than the standard pregnant woman. The front desk doesn’t have my chart in front of them when they schedule my care. I need an educated person with access to my chart right away.
– When I make requests, they’re most like gentle commands. I’m pretty firm on what I need. I stopped treating my relationship with my OB as a doctor/patient relationship (they know best; I just need to listen), and less like a partnership (we’re both in this together), and more like an agency/client relationship (I pay their bills and am hiring them for their expertise so I can get as close to the experience I want as possible).
– I had a heart-to-heart with my doctor. I told her I might need more time at appointments than she is used to giving. That I do my research and will come armed with a lot of questions. That I want to be as in control of the birth experience as possible. That I might refuse interventions. I ask about her C-section rates and intervention rates. I asked about her philosophy of birth. And then, I ask – if you are still OK with all that, then I’d like to work with you.
My OB and I don’t see exactly eye-to-eye on everything. And yet, she takes all the time with me that I need. She treats me with respect, compassion, and care. She knows I’m educated and responds to my questions with a certain level of respect. And she helped me create several contingency plans for every likely possible scenario based on my history.
– I refuse specific routine tests. Because of my past, doctors like to know my hCG right away. They want to test every two days until it is high enough for an ultrasound. I hate hCG testing. The first number tells you almost nothing. You have to wait for it to double. And so your entire universe revolves around the two days between finding out your number and finding out if it has increased.
Don’t even get me started about the anxiety between blood draws! And then one day, they tell you, “I’m sorry . . . Your hCG went down. You will miscarry.” I’ve decided this is a stupid way to find out I’m miscarrying. I’d rather my body tell me. And so I opted out. Because I could. (I always give the nurse the caveat that if I am bleeding or in pain, I will come in and get my hCG done.)
At the same time, I may request more testing done at other times. The goal is to simultaneously alleviate as much of my anxiety as possible while making sure the baby is getting all the attention they need.
– Free car seat cover: Sign me up!
– Weekly email about my baby’s development: Sign me up!
– Formula samples, free binkie, or pregnancy magazine subscription: Sign me up!
Free crib, baby’s wardrobe for a year, and a college fund in exchange for my address, email and due date: Heck no!!!!! I don’t want anyone sending me emails about how big the baby should be. I don’t want formula samples dropping by unannounced in the mail. Because if I lose this baby, the last thing I want is an email reminding me that I should be X weeks along, and baby should be so big – when I know good, and well that baby is dead.
No. Thank. You.
Unsubscribing from every pregnancy email known to the universe is not how I want to spend my days if we lose this baby.
There are a lot of reminders I won’t be able to protect myself from if the worst happens.
I consider this self-preservation.
Before loss, when it came to announcing our pregnancy, we only had a few considerations: How the heck were we going to hide this pregnancy for eight weeks? And what was the most fun, cutest way we could announce?
For those of us who have lost a pregnancy, we now know the 12-weeks “safe zone” to announce is a joke. Maybe we waited until things were “safe” before we announced and then our baby died. We realized there is no such thing as a “safe zone” in pregnancy.
Or we ended up with a secret loss that was painful and burdensome to hide.
When I got pregnant again, deciding when and how to announce was a confusing time with no clear answers. Some days, I felt like announcing right away (because I knew I would want support if we had a loss). And other days, I wanted to wait until we were half-way through the pregnancy before making our pregnancy known. (Or later. Maybe after the baby is born!? Could we skip the pregnancy announcement and head straight to a birth announcement?)
Not only was I worried about timing, but I was super aware of everyone who has let us know they have also had a loss or suffer from infertility. While I knew I deserved to be happy, I also know exactly how it feels to be on the other side of a pregnancy announcement while suffering recurrent loss and infertility. The last thing I want is for our (tentative) joy to be a burden to those in the trenches.
In short – nothing may feel like absolute right way or time to announce. I think the best we can do is decide what we need most at this moment, in this pregnancy, and go from there.
Many moms will tell you that when they got their first positive pregnancy test ever, their entire lives flashed before their eyes. Well, their baby’s life that is. Visions of who would be in the delivery room and how old baby would be at Christmas and what Easter outfits would be worn danced in front of their heads. Many dreams of first birthday parties and preschool and kindergarten cap and gown pictures at the first news of a new little one on the way!
But when you have had a positive pregnancy test that results in crushed dreams – well, planning feels impossible in the next pregnancy.
When I first found out I was pregnant again after five early losses, I could not think ahead more than one day. “Today I am pregnant,” I had to keep mentally repeating. As my first ultrasound drew near, I could only take it to minute by minute. I was hyper-aware of all pregnancy symptoms – and hyper-aware of all the symptoms that seemed to be missing.
Every twinge, every cramp, could signal an emotional breakdown. I always squeezed my boobs to test their soreness. I worried about bloating. I worried about the lack of bloating. I checked my toilet paper for spotting every time I wiped. (I still check every time.) If I felt normal one day, I worried myself sick. I didn’t like morning sickness – but at least by having them, I could rest (just a little) that I still had pregnancy hormones in me.
Throughout the next nine months, we are not only we contending with our own loss stories, we’re now a part of a greater community called the bereaved moms club (AKA “1,000 ways your baby could die.”) We realize that pregnancy loss and infertility is not a club where you pay your dues once, and then you’re free for life.
It’s a club where our friends before us have had multiple losses, all in different trimesters, because of various problems. Planning with confidence can feel dangerously overconfident at times.
Some days I feel confident. Other days, I’m ridden with self-doubt. Most days, all I can do is to take it moment-by-moment. Maybe that’s all you can too. If so – welcome to the club of pregnancy after loss.
Early pregnancy after loss is nothing like pregnancy before loss. Anxiety, frustration, and fear may fight for your attention, and threaten to diffuse your happiness with your new pregnancy. And yet, I’m learning to take back some control over fear and anxiety. I’m learning to ask for what I need, to let go of everyone’s expectations of me, and live in the moment. I’m also learning to celebrate each small milestone along the way…
Even as I know, I’ll be holding my breath until the baby is finally in my arms.
What have you done differently in pregnancy after loss? How did you cope with all the onslaught of emotions that came with your new pregnancy?